ABC News correspondent honored at McGruder Lecture

Byron Pitts, ABC national news anchor, speaks to an audience about the importance of embracing diversity in todays society in the Kiva, Monday, March 31, 2014. Pitts was awarded the 2014 Robert G. McGruder Lecture Award.

Byron Pitts, ABC national news anchor, speaks to an audience about the importance of embracing diversity in today’s society in the Kiva, Monday, March 31, 2014. Pitts was awarded the 2014 Robert G. McGruder Lecture Award.

Reaching the audience through diversity was the message given by ABC News correspondent Byron Pitts at the 11th annual Robert G. McGruder Guest Lecture as he received the Distinguished Guest Lecture Award.

“In journalism, at our core, our job is to reach the heart of the viewer, or reader, or listener,” Pitts said. “And you can only do that if you walked, in some way, in their footsteps. So to me, diversity is critically important.”

The lecture was held at 11 a.m. on Monday March 31 in the Kiva and was open to the public, followed by an invitation-only luncheon. The School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion sponsored the McGruder Lecture and Luncheon.

Pitts is a multiple Emmy award-winning journalist who has worked on various news outlets. He spent 15 years with CBS News where he was National Chief Correspondent for The CBS Evening News and filed regularly for 60 Minutes. Currently, Pitts is a news anchor and chief national correspondent at ABC News where he has done stories for Good Morning America, Nightline and 20/20.

Throughout the lecture Pitts shared many stories and gave advice to students. He said he grew up in Baltimore, illiterate until the age of 12. He also shared how he spoke with a stutter until his junior year of college but he that knew from a young age he wanted to be a journalist.

The church he attended did a lot in the later years of the Civil Rights Movement, Pitts said, and when journalists were present the police were not as cruel. He said journalists were the “good guys” to him. With that he encouraged students to dream boldly.

“My message to you as I close is dream big, your dreams for yourselves should be so big that people laugh when they hear them,” he said. “Dream boldly, dream specific.”

Pitts is the second broadcaster to receive the award after his former colleague, managing editor and anchor at WKYC TV, Russ Mitchell.

Mitchell, as well as Dr. Stanley Wearden, dean of the College of Communication and Information, and junior journalism major Krandall Brantley, a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, gave opening remarks at the McGruder Lecture.

“I hope you go and look at Byron Pitts’ pieces, because there’s a trademark there,” Mitchell said during the introduction. “They always begin with good writing, followed by a great interview, oh did I say there’s also great writing? In the middle there’s a twist, something you didn’t expect, then, by the way, there’s more great writing. Then, there’s something at the end that Byron leaves you with that leaves you thinking.”

During his presentation Pitts shared some of his work, and his ability to express diversity in media resonated with junior applied communication major Tess Sawyer.

“He really opened my eyes to a whole new meaning of diversity,” Sawyer said.

Pitts said he hopes students use diversity to expand journalism and tell stories that they want the world to hear. He said that students should give the subjects a voice.

“Journalism lives really in the words and conversations that we have,” he said. “In the truths that we seek and that we tell, and by giving a voice to the voiceless.”

Contact Heather Inglis at [email protected].

Video by Brian Ivey.